With an enviable track record as Nigeria’s longest-running art fiesta, Life in My City Art Festival’s regional exhibitions deserve better positioning in its contemporary art space. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke, who saw the Lagos edition on Wednesday, says

Such is the consistency of the wow-potentials of the Life in My City Art Festival’s Lagos exhibitions that the expectations of this year’s edition – the first since the COVID-19 lockdown was lifted – were ratcheted up a notch. But truth be told, the wow moments at its last Wednesday, August 3 event held at the Thought Pyramid Art Centre in Ikoyi were few and far between. And depressing though this may sound, the looming spectre of invention fatigue among the young contestants seemed to have joined forces with the creativity-stifling distractions of these times to haunt the offerings.

Give the artists credit, though; even in the naive, enthusiastic manipulation of their chosen mediums, it was clear that efforts were made to leave lasting, creative impressions on the audience, even if this endeavour seemed cerebrally contrived. For instance, traces of latent potential in the works of two obviously-skilled ceramicists or clay sculptors—namely, Samuel Abidemi’s “Ewa-Clay” and “Idi Ileke” as well as Olubunmi Atere’s “Fecundity” and “Community”—imply that the artists might yet go places given the right circumstances. Of course, the same could be said about Elizabeth Adeola Ibatayo’s textile offering “Mind-ful”, Oluwasegun Adeojo’s painting “Esprit de Corps” and drawing “Silenced” and Doris Onyinye Chukwuma’s photography series “A Stare to be Saved” I and II.

As for the exhibition’s real head-turners, Oladunni Moshood Gbolahan’s masterly drawings “Perturbation” and “Allure”, Hafeez Olalekan Kareem’s “Silent Noise” and Hanson Okere’s mixed media “Dilemma of Liberty Versus Other” deserve to be awarded the laurel wreath. These works stand out as solitary beacons in the tangle of visual impressions, which even the curator with the most proficient skills would have been hard pushed to assemble.

Dilemma of Liberty Versus Other, mixed media by Hanson Okere

That said, it is interesting how little the theme of this year’s exhibition – like the ones before it – seems to be either superficially adhered to or outrightly ignored. Granted, the theme, Paradox of Muted Echoes, which is another way of saying that things are not always what they appear to be, must have left many of the contestants scratching their heads in their attempt to unravel the mystery. “It also seems to suggest that, sometimes, silence being a vital part of sound, may be a potent device to enable us [to] hear from within, but it still presents a paradox,” the festival’s art director Dr Ayo Adewunmi explains in the exhibition catalogue.

But then, the flip side of such not-so-well-thought-through foisting of such conceptual themes on these barely exposed younger artists is their tendency to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to the annual competition, which is best known by its acronym LIMCAF. Indeed, it is not impossible that some of the works would have been hastily produced, if not blatantly dredged up from past collections. As for the jurors, they must have had quite an interesting time in the online selection of these works, which they deemed suitable for the physical regional exhibitions.

Talking about the regional exhibitions, the Lagos edition was only one of the handful so far, which include Abuja, Auchi/Benin and Ondo editions. It is at these regional exhibitions – the second of the competition’s three stages – that the top 100 works for the grand finale exhibition in Enugu will be selected.

During the grand finale exhibition, which is scheduled to be held from Saturday, October 22 to Saturday, October 29, at the Institute of Management and Technology’s International Conference Centre, the LIMCAF’s national jury will decide the eventual award-winners from among these 100 works.

Meanwhile, the awards and gala nights, which will be held this year on October 29 as the climax of the three stages of the LIMCAF’s selection process, are often graced by distinguished personalities drawn from all spheres of life. Among these, such visual arts leading lights as El Anatsui (who is also a patron of the annual event), the soon-to-be nonagenarian Bruce Onobrakpeya, the late Ola Oloidi, the late Olabisi Silva, Jerry Buhari, Kunle Filani, Sani Mu’azu, the late Nsikak Essien, Peju Layiwola, Joe Musa, Frank Ugiomoh, Sam Ovraiti, Blaise Gundu Gbaden, Chijioke Onuora, and Tonie Okpe, among others, have at various times featured prominently at the colourful event.

There has also been the high-profile presence of the LIMCAF’s sponsors and supporters, as well as strong representations from the government and traditional institutions. Indeed, the awards and gala night have always been the meeting ground for such dignitaries as the Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe; Nigeria’s former high commissioner to the UK, Christopher Kolade; the former Cross River State governor, Donald Duke; the group chairman of Honeywell Group, Oba Otudeko; and the founder of the Yemisi Shyllon Museum, Prince Yemisi Shyllon, among others.

L-R: MTN Foundation’s Dennis Okoro, Financial Consultant Mrs Yvonne Fasinro, LIMCAF’s executive director Kevin Ejiofor, the Christopher Kolade Foundation’s Mobolaji Lana and Thought Pyramid Art Centre’s Ovie Omatshola

Meanwhile, this Nigeria’s biggest youth empowerment art platform has come a long way since its inception in 2017. From its modest beginnings as an in-house project of Chief Robert Orji’s advertising agency Rocana Nigeria Limited, it soon elicited the interest of the Alliance Française network and the French Embassy and, not too long afterwards, attracted high-profile sponsors like Diamond Bank, FBN Holdings, the Enugu State Government and, more recently, the MTN Foundation. It is not surprising therefore that the top-echelon staff members of these organisations have also graced the awards and gala night. 

The awards, which come with cash prizes, are classified as the overall winner, the categories’, endowed and consolation prizes. Only recently, the 12 winners of the festival’s 2018 and 2019 editions – six drawn from each edition – were joined by the six top winners of the 2021 edition for an all-expenses trip to the Dakar Art Biennale, tagged Dak’Art, which was bankrolled by Professor El Anatsui.

After so many years of its unmistakable impact on the contemporary Nigerian art scene, the LIMCAF exhibitions should by now have transcended the realm of the ordinary.

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